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An EU family dinner An EU family dinner
by Thanos Kalamidas
2006-10-24 09:47:17
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The informal EU meeting in Lahti, Finland, gave all the populist politicians, anti-European groups and media a good chance to remember the bureaucratic and hydrocephalus EU by bringing out all the old arguments.

The feeling in the meeting was that Europe is numb and that they only remembered the good old active days with the presence of the Russian president once they started talking about monopolies and human rights. Actually, the appearance of President Putin managed to monopolize the interest of the media leaving the rest of the meeting ignored.

Currently, most of the European countries face internal problems that reflect in these meetings and somehow it looks as if what a German official said last May is coming true: The Finnish presidency will be a quiet time without many surprises. Tony Blair is counting months or weeks before retirement and Britain is going to face a tough period with both of its primary parties weakened after such a lengthy Blair period.

France is another country that is heading for critical elections at the end of Jacques Chirac’s era and the possibility of having a woman as the next president looks likely. Germany has a new chancellor, Angela Merkel, and she is still numb from the forced cohabiting with the Socialist Party and is still trying to find the perfect balance inside her cabinet.

Italy tries to recover from Berlusconi’s dark times and Belgium is still wondering how this nationalist and neo-Nazi movement appeared. Holland is facing another crisis with immigration, while the new conservative government in Sweden suffers from loses in its first month. Greece and Finland are entering an election year with unpredictable results, plus Spain and Portugal seems confused over how to deal illegal immigration and their financial problems.

Most of the new ten members are trying to recover from the reality. Instead of finding the western paradise in EU, they found tonnes of laws and regulations. Most of them have realized that for every cent they receive from EU funds, they have to do an equal number of compromises on many levels. This is reflected through their public's raised hopes of the promised EU paradise and the natural reaction in front of the financial sacrifices to harmonise with the economy of the other European members.

Bulgaria and Romania, full members by 2007, look dazed by this turn from paradise to nightmare, while the big candidate Turkey hasn’t fulfilled her obligations with the EU, primarily recognizing the Cypriot democracy – a full EU member. Turkey also failed to open the ports and the airports to the ten new members, harmonize immigration and human rights with the rest of the European members, and finally cut the army out of political decisions.

The Iranian nuclear problem holds the EU's attention as they play the role of mediator between a stubborn dictator and the American administration. Add to that, the Middle East problem with the traditional relationships between Europe and the Arab countries, the reality of the energy problem and a need of a pan-European energy policy, you get a very blurred picture of what’s going on.

As usual in these cases, the truth is in the little letters on the bottom. The 25 members have to deal with their internal problems, but this meeting was to reassure everybody of a common policy that will not change. They had already put a couple of years before the platform on which the EU vehicle was driving and this meeting, just in front all the internal changes, was to prove that despite the change of faces nothing is really going to change. The other important factor was the change in the bureaucracy and the unbelievable number of legislations that confuse rather than help EU members.

The members all know that this has cost them the dream of a united Europe. The relationship with the USA, the late reaction when dealing with the invasion of Lebanon and the lack of flexibility when it came the ten new members joining, have all highlighted the foreign and internal problems facing the EU. It is also not flexible to new international financial changes and competition with old and new powers, including the USA and China.

The EU Commission President José Manuel Barroso is determined to bring an end to all that and the commission has already started with the construction sector by reducing the legislations from a couple of thousand to just four hundred. Others are to follow with the big concept being the agriculture legislations. Another issue was the European constitution and the members’ commitment to make it work.

Obviously, there was an agreement there as well. Mostly it was the Turkey problem and there was a silent agreement between the members that the decision is going to postponed for a year when either the Turkish prime minister will be more powerful after a second turn in power or a new situation will emerge in Turkey.

Putin got his message as well, all is fine with his energy proposition to the European but there is a huge ‘but’ that includes opening the Russian market to European products at good prices, without many taxes in order to make them competitive. The EU's negotiation included reminding Russia that they are watching their stance on human rights and using the excuse to cut their dreams of becoming an international energy power. The conversation between the EU and Russia will be resolved in the next meeting at the end of November.

So, the family met in Lahti before the final Christmas dinner in December just to ensure that no big misunderstanding will emerge and that we are all in good spirits, so the only thing left to do is visit Santa Claus in Lapland.

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